All Right Here Hon?

By | Category: Travel destinations

Myrtle Beach

Rather than the usual “Is everything all right with your meal,” “all right here hon” was the question I was asked as I ate a philly cheese sandwich in a roadside diner in South Carolina. To see what I wanted to order, the question was “What can I get you darlin?” This is southern hospitality, informal and friendly as we travelled down what is known as the Grand Strand, a 90 mile stretch of coastline that went from the border with North Carolina to the historic town of Georgetown where Michelle Obama still has family. And there are lots of diners, pancake houses and restaurants here. It is claimed there are more restaurant seats than in the whole of Las Vegas.
Why?
Because the Grand Strand is home to America’s most popular family holiday locations.

Dolly Partons Dixie Stampede

It includes places little known to Brits (unless you are a fanatical golfer) like Pawleys Island, Murrells Inlet, Little River, Georgetown of course and the two very different places of Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach. Since the 1930’s, Myrtle Beach has been attracting the family holidaymaker. Throughout this part of the world, there are golf courses scattered everywhere with the famous courses at Kiawah Island and Hilton Head just down the coast. This has been the reason why many Brits have come. Of those Brits on my plane that I spoke to, all were over to play the courses. They might see some of the other highlights of this area but to those at home who know little of this part of the world, there is a lot to see. Why we have no packaged tours or direct flights to a place that Britons would love is beyond me.
There is heritage, (South Carolina was the first state to secede from the union in the civil war) there are brackish marshes for watching birds and other wildlife, there are attractions like Broadway on the Beach combining an aquarium with shopping, a funfair and a theatre; evening entertainment at The Carolina Opry, the Alabama Theater, the Palace, House of Blues , The Hard Rock, Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede (to be replaced shortly with a pirate themed extravaganza) and other places, boutique shopping (as well as at shopping malls) in the new Market Common district and then, of course the beach. Mile after mile of sandy, clean beaches with that ever so British construction of piers jutting out into the Atlantic enabling you to fish or watch the dolphins. And away from the ocean, almost turning this area into a long, thin island is the Intracoastal Waterway that allows sailors to move in the calmer waters all the way from New England down to Florida.
Getting here from the UK and Ireland isn’t that easy. There are flights into Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham (the nearest gateways) but then you have to connect onto a smaller plane to get to the airport at Myrtle Beach. But because the airport is small, getting in and out is quick and you’re never too far from where the hotels, condominiums, camper van or holiday ownership complexes are. Before you leave it, pick up the free maps and coupon booklets from the baggage reclaim area. One coupon book has 84 coupons in it and there not just the usual save a dollar if you spend a $100. These include discounts off attractions, food (even if you’re travelling by yourself rather than the buy one get one free type.) You can collect other coupon books at your hotel or in some of the restaurant entrances. One I picked up at Big Daddy’s Roadhouse had 144 pages
In many ways, this area is like the UK. The area grew up as the holiday destination for surrounding mill workers who used to take their week’s holiday and come here to soak up the sun. And if the sun went in, (which it hardly does in the summer months) then the same sort of attractions we have, are here entertain the visitors. There are fun fairs, cafe’s, a newly completed boardwalk that goes for a mile so you can walk or jog without getting sand in your shoes, flumes to try and the most astonishing array of different crazy golf places you’ll see anywhere. I think there are 42 of them at the last count. And the accommodation is similar to that if you are used to Spain or the Algarve. A lot of the hotels and motels have laundries for you to do the washing. You can rent condos (flats) for the week or a day or you can take over someone’s timeshare for the week. Or if you want to splash out, hire one of the old wooden houses in the posh Pawleys Island area (but it will cost!)

the beach is this close to the hotel

There is a an hourly bus service that goes up the oceanfront that costs $1.75 (unless you’re over 55 in which case it is $1) or you can take a taxi. (these are expensive) Most people hire a car from one of the normal suppliers or, if you fancy a change, there are a few companies that rent older models like the intriguingly named Rent-a-Wreck. Unless you plan on just languishing on the beach, you’ll need to get around because the distances from one end to the other are not walkable despite the fact that, unlike a lot of places over here, there are pavements. We are talking miles and miles. Your hotel may provide a pick-up service from the airport and run you to and from the shopping malls and some of the attractions but check first because they don’t all do it. You can also hire scooters which are a convenient way to get around and with the speed limit up Ocean Boulevard being just 25mph, you could be the fastest thing around!
But if it is similar to the UK in many ways, it is so different in others. The folksy, good humour of the locals reminds you that you’re in a different world. There’s no standing on ceremony here. The food is different, the type of layout is different. Along the Ocean Boulevard the hotels on the beach side all face onto the beach so instead of wondering what they mean in brochures when they say,”2 minutes from the beach,” here you really are. On the opposite side of the boulevard, there are the older properties or shops. Towards the southern end there are few restaurants to go to. You have to walk up to Highway 17,also known as King to find some (this road has restaurant after restaurant from miles ranging from the very affordable to the expensive.
Myrtle Beach is also a little unusual. It isn’t all seaside glitz and continuous holiday resort. There are luxurious hotels that will set you back and arm and a leg, family priced hotels and motels as well as things in between. It claims room prices for everyone’s budget. But Ocean Boulevard changes as well. In some parts it’s quieter, others bustling and North Myrtle Beach is different again. There are sixties motels and this year’s huge complexes. What is surprising is how many are family owned. All right they are rich families but the hotel chains don’t dominate as they do in some places. Yes there is a Marriott, a Hilton and 3 Hamptons but for every chain hotel, there are 20 that are independent. But which to stay in? This can be tough. There are some very inexpensive places that you’d pass on staying in them. And others that are so well looked after that you could almost be at home. But then the same applies to the expensive ones. Price isn’t necessarily the best guide. Location matters if your hotel doesn’t have a restaurant. How far do you have to walk? If you have a microwave and a fridge, how far away is the nearest supermarket? Check with your travel agent and see what they say. And if they don’t know send an e-mail to the Myrtle Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau and they can offer some help.

thanks to Elaine, Theresa (at the Carolina Opry) and Suzanne ( at the Hampton Inn Oceanfront) for all their help and hospitality

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